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Sikh migration to Canada

  • Published
    25th Sep, 2023
Context

The ongoing tussle between New Delhi and Ottawa has brought the Sikh diaspora in Canada under the spotlight. Sikhs have been arriving there for more than a century now.

About
  • Today, Canada has one of the largest Sikh populations outside of India.
  • Sikh Canadians have also actively participated in Canadian society, contributing to its multicultural fabric and holding positions in politics, sports, and entertainment.

Countries as Destination for Sikh migration:

Other countries which have the significant Sikh population are United Kingdom, United States, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand.

The Migration of Sikhs to Canada:

  • Sikhs began to migrate overseas in the late 19th century as they were involved in the armed services for the British Empire.

Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major in the British India Army (25th Cavalry, Frontier Force), is considered the first Sikh settler to come to the country that year.

  • Most of the migrant Sikhs moved to the country as labourers — logging in British Columbia and manufacturing in Ontario.
  • Later observing the high Sikh migration to Canada in search of Employment has made the Canadian government to make some stringent laws for immigration.
  • The Canadian government made it mandatory for Asian immigrants to possess a “sum of $200, considered high enough to serve as a distinctive and to arrive in Canada only by means of a continuous journey from their country of origin”.

The Komagata Maru incident:

  • In 1914, the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 passengers, mostly Sikh immigrants, arrived in Vancouver, Canada. The passengers were primarily from Punjab, British India.
  • The Canadian government, enforcing strict immigration policies and the continuous passage regulation, denied the passengers entry into Canada. They were held on the ship in harsh conditions for two months.
  • After a legal battle, the Komagata Maru was forced to return to India in July 1914.
  • Tragically, upon arrival in Calcutta (now Kolkata), a clash with British authorities resulted in several deaths.

Global response:

  • The incident highlighted Canada's discriminatory immigration policies and racism against South Asian immigrants.
  • It became a symbol of the struggle against racial discrimination and immigration injustices, contributing to the civil rights movement for South Asians in Canada and India's fight for independence from British colonial rule.

Canada’s Shift in Policy:

The Canadian immigration policy relaxed after the end of World War II. The three main reasons include;

  • Canada joined UN and declaration against racial discrimination: Canada to maintain an immigration policy and practice based on racial preferences after it joined the United Nations and its declaration against racial discrimination, and membership in a multi-racial Commonwealth of equal partners.
  • In search of cheap labour: Post WWII, Canada started to expand its economy for which it required labourers.
  • The decline in the immigration of people from Europe and the Canadian government turned to the third world countries for ‘the import of human capital’.

After-effects of Policy shift:

  • The factors ultimately led to the introduction of the ‘points system’ in 1967 by the Canadian government that made ‘skill ‘alone as criteria for admission of non-dependent relatives into the country and eliminated any preferences given to one particular race.
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